Total Lunar Eclipse on 15 April 2014

Tonight we were treated to a rare astronomical event (for those of us willing to stay up late anyway). Starting around 11 PM on April 14th, the Moon passed through the shadow of the Earth cast by the Sun, darkening it and casting it in a reddish hue. Cloud cover threatened to spoil the event, but the clouds parted about 15 minutes before the point of maximum redness, around 12:45AM on April 15th. I was ready with my tripod and camera.

Also prominent in the photo is Mars, which is currently at its closest point to Earth in the past six years. I woke up my daughter and brought her outside to see the two bright red objects. She was very tired and cold but acknowledged seeing the moon and quickly asked to be brought back inside. I put her back to bed and before I left her room she asked: “Daddy, if you see any more cool stuff tonight please wake me up!”. I agreed.

Total Lunar Eclipse

Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower in Trout Lake

I attended a star party last night in Trout Lake with Jim White, our local astronomer. Once again, he brought his 20″ Newtonian reflector telescope and showed us a variety of deep space objects: nebulae, distant galaxies (including M101 and M51), open and globular clusters, etc. The weather was perfect with not a single cloud in the sky.  We also were fortunate to have a new moon, with the only source of light pollution being a tiny light at the nearby school. The Perseid Meteor shower was peaking last night, so I brought my camera and set it up for automatic interval shooting. I shot about 200 frames, but only a few captures meteorites. Due to the randomness and brevity of these  showers, it was mostly luck and a ton of patience that allowed me to capture anything at all.

Final perseid

Some Tips

Just in case you’re interested in my technique (or lack thereof) here are a few pointers on what I did.

  • Use a sturdy tripod – this cannot be emphasized enough
  • Remove any filters from the lens that could block light (neutral density, polarizer, etc.)
  • Try to focus at infinity or on a distant source of light. Use manual focus.
  • Wide open aperture
  • Use a relatively high ISO without generating too much noise (I used 640)
  • 30 second exposure (go longer and the rotation of the Earth will blur the stars)
  • Set interval shooting to occur in rapid succession

Viewing the Transit of Venus

Today a rare astronomical event took place: the orbit of the planet Venus placed it between the Earth and the sun. This event is called the Transit of Venus and it last occurred in 2004. It will occur again in 2117, so you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that the weather gods were not smiling upon us today. The Northwest experienced a weather system that brought rain and thick cloud cover completely obscuring the sun. The clear sky chart showed we might get a break later in the day and fortunately it was right! The clouds broke just after 5PM today and I seized upon the opportunity to drive to our local hardware store and purchase a piece of welders glass. Immediately after exiting the store I put the glass up to my eyes and I could clearly see the tiny dot of a silhouetted planet against the solar disc. I verbalized my excitement with a resounding “cool!” and drove back to work to show the rest of my coworkers and my wife when she finished her chemistry class. Astronomy is awesome!

Photograph of the Transit of Venus

I did not take this photograph since I didn't have my camera with me today. Click the image to read an article that explains the transit in more depth.

May 20 Annular Eclipse

The Nugget and Daddy watching the 2012 solar eclipseToday we were treated to a very rare event, an annular solar eclipse. Because the orbit of the moon is more distant, it does not completely occlude the sun and produces a “ring of fire” effect. In fact, the word annular means ring-shaped. Jim, a local astronomer, was ready with a telescope and solar filters but the weather did not cooperate today. Instead we were cursed with a large blanket of thick clouds, so the eclipse viewing event was canceled. In fact, the cloud mass covered the entire Northwest, so driving to a better viewing location was not an option. I took my family and camera to Panorama Point anyway, just in case there was a break in the clouds. We arrived at 6:17PM, just 2 minutes after the point of maximum occlusion. Supposedly up to 70% of the sun’s light would be blocked but it didn’t seem that much darker when we arrived. Amazingly the solar disc was visible through the clouds so I was able to snap a few photos:

I was not fully prepared to photograph the eclipse since I only had a portrait lens with me. I probably should have taken my older Canon Rebel, a less capable camera, but it comes with a 300mm zoom!